Jordan Montgomery struggled in the first inning of his latest start last Friday night at Auburn by allowing four runs, an early deficit South Carolina could not overcome.
Gamecock hurlers have surrendered six runs in 43 innings since then and head into this weekend's pivotal SEC series against Alabama possessing a SEC-leading team ERA of 2.00 in 382.0 innings pitched.
USC has allowed two or fewer runs in three of the last four contests, including an 8-0 shutout of Davidson on Tuesday and a 6-1 victory over USC Upstate last night at Carolina Stadium.
The shutout over Davidson was USC's 12th of the season, two shy of the school record set in 1974. Last night, Curt Britt and Hunter Privette combined for three-hit relief over 6.2 innings to keep the USC Upstate hitters at bay after the Spartans scored in the top of the first off starter Matthew Vogel.
Nine USC hurlers with at least 16.0 innings pitched this season have ERAs under 2.40, led by southpaw reliever Vice Fiori, who has yet to give up an earned run this season.
So, if pitching, like hitting, is contagious, the Gamecocks should be in excellent shape for the Alabama series.
In this era of deadened bats and balls, pitching is undoubtedly the most critical component for success in college baseball. The Gamecocks are 30-5 this season when allowing five runs or fewer in a game, 28-1 when the opponent scores three or fewer runs.
They have the same record when holding the opponent without a home run, a possible key to this weekend's series since Alabama is second in the SEC with 28 homers in 41 games, while USC is fourth at 24.
Wil Crowe, a true freshman, has yet to allow a homer in 60.2 IP - an impressive stat for a first-year pitcher in the SEC - while Jack Wynkoop has surrendered just two long balls in 61.0 IP.
"They have a few more home runs than we do," Chad Holbrook said on Thursday. "That will be a key to the series, trying to keep the ball in the ballpark. They have some guys that can hit it out. If we minimize their extra base hits, that will be a big factor in whether we have success or not."
Crowe is one of eight SEC pitchers with six victories or more in 2014.
Alabama's team ERA is 2.66, about two-thirds of a run more than USC, but will throw junior RHP Spencer Turnbull (5-2, 2.14 ERA in 59.0 IP) in Friday night's series opener against Montgomery, who overcame the shaky start last Friday night on the Plains to spin USC's first complete game of the season.
"Turnbull is electric and has great stuff," Holbrook. "He is a first-round type guy. We couldn't manage a hit off him during his freshman year here in 2012. So, we're going to need a good start from Jordan tomorrow night."
The following day, lefthander Wynkoop scattered eight hits and two runs over seven effective innings. But Cody Mincey, who worked out of a bases loaded, no-out jam in the bottom of the eighth, was credited with the win when USC scored twice in the top of the ninth to pull out a 3-2 victory.
Joel Seddon registered a save and win in last weekend's series at Auburn. He is 2-1 with a dazzling 0.33 ERA in 27.1 IP and 10 saves in 11 opportunities.
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